Backstage with ‘The Beach Boys’

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – Jan 16, 2022

The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1961. The group’s original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson; their cousin Mike Love; and their friend Al Jardine. Distinguished by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs, they are one of the most influential acts of the rock era.[1] The group, led by their principal songwriter and producer Brian, pioneered novel approaches to popular music form and production, combining their affinities for jazz-based vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound. He later arranged his compositions for studio orchestras and explored a variety of other styles, often incorporating classical or jazz elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.

The Beach Boys began as a garage band managed by the Wilsons’ father Murry, with Brian’s increasingly sophisticated songwriting and recording abilities dominating their creative direction. Emerging at the vanguard of the “California Sound”, they performed original material that reflected a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance. After 1964, they abandoned the surfing aesthetic for more personal lyrics and multi-layered sounds. In 1966, the Pet Sounds album and “Good Vibrations” single raised the group’s prestige to the top level of rock innovators and established the band as symbols of the nascent counterculture era. Following the dissolution of the group’s Smile project in 1967, Brian gradually ceded production and songwriting duties to the rest of the band, reducing his input because of mental health and substance abuse issues. The group’s public image subsequently faltered, and despite efforts to continue their psychedelic ventures and reclaim their hippie audiences, they were dismissed as an embodiment of the values and outlooks shared by early 1960s white, suburban teenagers.

The continued success of their greatest hits albums during the mid 1970s precipitated the band’s transition into an oldies act, a move that was denigrated by critics and many fans. Since the 1980s, much-publicized legal wrangling over royalties, songwriting credits and use of the band’s name transpired. Dennis drowned in 1983 and Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. After Carl’s death, many live configurations of the band fronted by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston continued to tour into the 2000s while other members pursued solo projects. Even though Wilson and Jardine have not performed with Love and Johnston’s band since their one-off 2012 reunion tour, they remain a part of the Beach Boys’ corporation, Brother Records Inc.

The Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and widely influential bands of all time.[2] The group had over eighty songs chart worldwide, thirty-six of them US Top 40 hits (the most by an American rock band), four reaching number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[1] The Beach Boys have sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time and are listed at No. 12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.[3][4] In 2017, a study of AllMusic’s catalog indicated the Beach Boys as the 6th most frequently cited artist influence in its database.[5] The core quintet of the three Wilsons, Love and Jardine were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.[6]

The Beach Boys – California Girls

1961–1966: Brian Wilson era – Beach-themed period

Released in December 1961, “Surfin'” soon aired on KFWB and KRLA, two of Los Angeles’ most influential teen radio stations.[citation needed] It was a hit on the West Coast, going to number three in Southern California,[citation needed] and peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. By the final weeks of 1961 “Surfin'” had sold more than 40,000 copies.[17

On June 4, the Beach Boys released their second single “Surfin’ Safari” backed with “409”. The release prompted national coverage in the June 9 issue of Billboard. The magazine praised Love’s lead vocal and said the song had strong hit potential.[22] On July 16, 1962 – after being turned down by Dot and Liberty – the Beach Boys signed a seven-year contract with Capitol Records, based on the strength of the June demo session.[17] This was at the urging of Capitol exec Nick Venet who signed the group, seeing them as the “teenage gold” he had been scouting for.[23] By November, their first album was ready – Surfin’ Safari, which reached 32 on the US Billboard charts. Their song output continued along the same commercial line, focusing on California youth lifestyle.[24][12]

In January 1963, three months after the release of their debut album, the band began recording their sophomore effort, Surfin’ U.S.A., a breakthrough for Brian, who began asserting himself as songwriter and arranger.[24] The LP was the start of Brian’s penchant for doubletracking vocals,[25] a pioneering innovation.[26] Released on March 25, 1963, Surfin’ U.S.A., met a more enthusiastic reception, reaching number two on the Billboard charts.[citation needed] This propelled the band into a nationwide spotlight, and was vital to launching surf music as a national craze.[24] Five days prior to the release of Surfin’ U.S.A., Brian produced “Surf City”, a song he had written for Jan and Dean. “Surf City” hit number one on the Billboard charts in July 1963, a development that pleased Brian but angered Murry, who felt his son had “given away” what should have been the Beach Boys’ first chart-topper.[27]

Although he had started playing live gigs again, Brian soon left the road to focus on writing and recording. The result of this arrangement produced the albums Surfer Girl, released on September 16, 1963 and Little Deuce Coupe, released less than a month later on October 7, 1963. This sextet incarnation of the Beach Boys did not extend beyond these two albums, as Marks officially left the band in early October because of conflict with manager Murry, pulling Brian back into touring.[29]

Following a successful Australasian tour in January and February 1964, the band returned home to face the British Invasion through the Beatles appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Also representing the Beatles, Capitol support for the Beach Boys immediately began waning. This caused Murry to fight for the band at the label more than before, often visiting their offices without warning to “twist executive arms.”[34][nb 5] The band finished the sessions on February 20, 1964 and titled the album Shut Down Volume 2. “Fun, Fun, Fun” was released as a single from the album (backed with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”) and was a major hit. The LP, while containing several filler tracks, was propelled by other songs such as the melancholic “The Warmth of the Sun” and the advanced production style of “Don’t Worry Baby”.[36]

The Beach Boys – Don’t Worry Baby

Brian soon wrote his last surf song in April 1964.[37] That month, during recording of the single “I Get Around”, Murry was relieved of his duties as manager. Brian reflected, “We love the family thing – y’know: three brothers, a cousin and a friend is a really beautiful way to have a group – but the extra generation can become a hang-up.”[17] When the single was released in May of that year, it would climb to number one, their first single to do so, proving that the Beach Boys could compete with contemporary British pop groups.[38] Two months later, the album that the song appeared on, All Summer Long, reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 charts. All Summer Long introduced exotic textures to the Beach Boys’ sound exemplified by the piccolos and xylophones of its title track.[39] The album was a swan-song to the surf and car music the Beach Boys built their commercial standing upon. Later albums took a different stylistic and lyrical path.[40] Before this, a live album, Beach Boys Concert, was released in October to a four-week chart stay at number one, containing a set list of previously recorded hits and covers that they had not yet recorded.[41]

Beach Boys – I Can Hear Music

Pet Sounds

n 1966, the Beach Boys formally established their use of unconventional instruments and elaborate layers of vocal harmonies on their album Pet Sounds.[41][60] It is considered Brian’s most concise demonstration of his production and songwriting expertise.[61][62] With songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B”, the album’s innovative soundscape incorporates elements of jazz, classical, pop, exotica, and the avant-garde.[63] The instrumentation combines found sounds such as bicycle bells and dog whistles with classically inspired orchestrations and the usual rock set-up of drums and guitars;[60][41] among others, silverware, accordions, plucked piano strings, barking dogs, and plastic water jugs.[64] For the basic rhythmic feel for “God Only Knows”, harpsichord, piano with slapback echo, sleigh bells, and strings spilled into each other to create a rich blanket of sound.[65]

The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice (Original Video)

Released in May, Pet Sounds peaked at No. 10 in the US and No. 2 in the UK.[66][67] This helped the Beach Boys become the strongest selling album group in the UK for the final quarter of 1966, dethroning the three-year reign of native bands such as the Beatles.[68] Met with a lukewarm critical reception in the US,[69] Pet Sounds was indifferently promoted by Capitol and failed to become the major hit Wilson had hoped it would be.[70] Its failure to gain a wider recognition in the U.S. combined with Capitol’s decision to issue Best of The Beach Boys in July dispirited Brian, who considered Pet Sounds an extremely personal work.[71] Some assumed that the label considered the album a risk, appealing more to an older demographic than the younger, female audience the Beach Boys built their commercial standing on.[72] Pet Sounds sales numbered approximately 500,000 units, a significant drop-off from the chain of million-selling albums that immediately preceded it.[73] Best of The Beach Boys was quickly certified Gold by the RIAA.[74]

Pet Sounds is considered by some as a Brian Wilson solo album in all but name, as other members contributed relatively little to the compositions or recordings.[75][41][76] Influenced by psychedelic drugs, Brian turned inward and probed his deep-seated self-doubts and emotional longings; the piece did not address the problems in the world around them, unlike other psychedelic rock groups.[77] As Jim Miller wrote of the album’s tone, “[It] vented Wilson’s obsession with isolation cataloging a forlorn quest for security. The whole enterprise, which smacked of song cycle pretensions, was streaked with regret and romantic languor.”[78] According to Brian, the album was designed as a collection of art pieces that belong together yet could stand alone.[79][80] In a 1972 retrospective review of the album, music journalist Stephen Davis wrote: “From first cut to last we were treated to an intense, linear personal vision of the vagaries of a love affair and the painful, introverted anxieties that are the wrenching precipitates of the unstable chemistry of any love relationship. This trenchant cycle of love songs has the emotional impact of a shatteringly evocative novel … nobody was prepared for anything so soulful, so lovely, something one had to think about so much.”[81]


Pet Sounds was massively influential upon its release, vaunting the band to the top level of rock innovators.[41] It is one of the earliest rock concept albums,[82][81] one of the earliest concept albums of the counterculture era,[83] and an early album in the emerging psychedelic rock style,[84] signaling a turning point wherein rock, which previously had been considered dance music, became music that was made for listening to.[85] In 2016, The Guardian’s Barbara Ellen reflected that the album was “hailed as a revolution in harmonies and production techniques … Wilson single-handedly reinvented the album as the in-depth illumination of an artist’s soul, kicking open a creative fire-door, liberating the album to exist as a self-contained art form on a par with literature, theatre, art, cinema, dance… anything the artist desired.”[86] Reflecting on the album on its 50th anniversary, PopMatters’ Danilo Castro added:

The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (From “Good Timin: Live At Knebworth” DVD)

The resulting recordings were colossal achievements, as conventional instruments seamlessly meshed with glockenspiels, ukulele, Electro-Theremin, bongos, and harpsichords. … His insistence upon exact musical cues, unconventional structure, and experimental trickery made for a final product that radiates originality. … Praised by every rocker from the Beatles to Bob Dylan, the latter who said Wilson’s left ear should be donated to the Smithsonian, the Beach Boys were suddenly spearheading the pop revolution. … Since that day in May … Pet Sounds has become a pillar of pop excellence. … it’s restructured the landscape of modern music in its image.[87]

In The Album: A Guide to Pop Music’s Most Provocative, Influential, and Important Creations, author James Perone championed the album for its complex orchestrations, sophisticated compositions, and varied tone colors, calling it a remove from “just about anything else that was going on in 1966 pop music.”[88] In 1976, journalist Robin Denselow wrote: “With the 1966 Pet Sounds album … Wilson had become America’s equivalent of the Beatles with his ability to expand the limits of popular taste.”[89] Paul McCartney named it one of his favorite albums of all time on multiple occasions, calling it the primary impetus for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).[90] In 2003, Pet Sounds was ranked second in “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list selected by Rolling Stone, behind only Sgt. Pepper.[90] In 2004, the album was acknowledged as an important historical and cultural work by the Library of Congress.[91]

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The Beach Boys – Darlin (live 1980)

The Beach Boys – I Get Around (live 2013)

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